Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: Difficult to make a film with five women in the lead

The writer-director on debut feature Sharmajee Ki Beti, thinking of women as characters before age 20 and after 30 and creative discussions with husband Ayushmann Khurrana
Tahira Kashyap Khurrana
Tahira Kashyap Khurrana

Life is a journey of finding yourself. Before becoming a writer-director, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana had fiddled with various professions. Hailing from a middle-class family in Chandigarh, where nobody, “even remotely”, had any connection to the film industry, the only creative outlet she had was theatre. “I did it for ten years. I tried to turn my amateur group into a professional one but still nobody came to buy our tickets,” she says with a chuckle.

Then came the straight path, the corporate gigs (including one where she was the programming head for Big FM) and teaching jobs in various colleges in Mumbai. “But somewhere deep down, I always wanted to tell stories,” says Tahira. “And was always trying to find mediums to do the same.” Presented by her actor-husband Ayushmann Khurrana, she pieced together her first short, Toffee in 2017. It depicts a day in the life of two adolescent girls, in a marginalised neighbourhood, trying to break out of patriarchal shackles. The film made the rounds at various film festivals including Taiwan International Film Festival and the homegrown MAMI Film Festival and garnered audience appreciation. “Apart from yourself and your loved ones, when a third party applauds your work that means there's something there. Maybe a scope to make a career out of it,” says Tahira.

She followed it up with Pinni (2020) and Quaranteen Love (2021), short segments in anthologies Zindagi InShort and Feels Like Ishq, respectively. A feature was still far away. “It’s difficult to make a film with five women in the cast,” says Tahira. Her debut feature film Sharmajee Ki Beti, upcoming on Prime Video on June 28, is a story of five women (all with the surname Sharma), across generations, juggling family, love and career in the metropolis of Mumbai. Sakshi Tanwar plays Jyoti Sharma, a teacher who is trying to balance her career while having a disjointed relationship with teenage daughter Swati (Vanshika Taparia), who herself is dealing with pubertal imbalances. Divya Dutta essays the role of Kiran Sharma, a bubbly-Punjabi homemaker, dealing with loneliness in the big city. She also has a daughter Gurveen (Arista Mehta), another confused teen who is close friends with Swati. An ambitious cricketer Tanvi Sharma (Saiyami Kher), with an unsupportive partner, is also part of the narrative. “Through these stories, what I am trying to convey is that women and their lives do exist before 20 and after 30. We are not just mothers or a revolutionary going on a march. We exist across the spectrum and have compelling, engaging and quirky stories to tell.”

It wasn’t easy though, to mount a project with all women on the poster. “There were weird, even funny suggestions from various collaborators,” shares Tahira. “Like make this into a love story, have these women as sidekicks or in a subplot, or get a male actor to make a special appearance.” Were they a little bit apprehensive of having a full-female cast? “Little bit is an understatement,” she says. “If this was not the case my feature would have been out by now.”

Apart from being a filmmaker, Tahira also dons the hat of being an author. She has written funny, “self-help” books like The 12 Commandments of Being a Woman and The 7 Sins of Being a Mother and also the biography of her husband Ayushmann (Cracking the Code: My Journey in Bollywood). Writers are made of different material. Unlike filmmakers, their work (except for editorial tweaks), translates almost how they intended it to. There are no multiple interpretations coming from actors, cinematographers, production and sound designers. “I have become a collaborative person over the years,” shares Tahira. “In all my jobs, I wasn’t a team player. I was a nerd with a very defined sense of right and wrong. But I realised every medium is different and you have to learn the trick of it. Now, I find it interesting when different people have different opinions on the set.”

And does she take suggestions from Ayushmann? Do they have creative disagreements? “We agree, and then we also agree to disagree. Everything he does might not be to my liking and every story I write might not click with him. But, nonetheless, we bounce-off scripts amongst each other. It’s very important for me to get his point of view,” she says. “He is a nice guy though, who likes my feminist stories.”

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